Two degrees are better than one

Jessica Hallman
July 18, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For some undergraduate Penn State students, having a single academic interest isn’t enough. Instead, they pave their path to success by pursuing multiple degrees through dual, or concurrent, majors.

In the College of Information Sciences and Technology, it is common to find students who are working toward a second degree. Though more recent IST students cannot pursue two majors within the college itself due to new enrollment requirements, many are studying a second discipline, such as political science or international politics, in another academic college that will enhance their IST background.

Others, however, have found a way to blend their academic interests with their passions in a seemingly unrelated field.

"I want to connect [my majors] by developing new lighting technology," said Jess Holmes, a rising junior who is pursuing concurrent degrees in information sciences and technology and theatre design. “I want to combine my artistic abilities and design development skills and connect technology with people."

She explained that she's always had an interest in technology, but the computer programming courses she took in high school lacked the interpersonal components she wanted. Now, by combining IST with her lighting design concentration within the theater major, Holmes is able to blend her technical knowledge with her passion for people.

Said Holmes, “With IST and theater, I can make whatever I want, and I want to make something because it benefits someone".

Outside of class, Holmes has spent this summer interning at Phillips Healthcare in Boston, where she is maintaining and helping to design the company’s cloud platform. In the future, she aspires to work for Electronic Theatre Controls, a company that produces theatrical and lighting equipment.

For students with concurrent majors like Holmes, a big factor in achieving success is managing their increasingly busy schedules. Holmes explained the importance of time management but advised others not to let the discouraging voices of others limit one's passion to excel.

Most students work hard to balance time for classes, studying, sleep, and social endeavors. Annie Schoen, a rising senior majoring in security and risk analysis and Spanish, says that balance is achievable even while pursuing two degrees.

"I really like to stay busy. It’s a way to keep sharp on my Spanish skills, but I still get to enjoy my time," said Schoen. "[For my majors] I just picked two topics that I love."

In addition to her two degrees, Schoen serves as president of the IST Diplomats, a group of students that assist with the college’s recruitment and retention programs. She tutors student athletes in Spanish at the Morgan Academic Center, and this summer she is interning at the Epsilon Corporation in Chicago, a global marketing company that uses data science to discover strategic insights.

Like Schoen, many students share that the secret to success when pursuing two bachelor degrees is discovering which areas are of the highest interest and the most satisfying.

"To me, [working in a technical field] means working with people and utilizing technology to fulfill the needs of other people.”

- Joshua Emero, Class of 2019

For Joshua Emero, a rising senior majoring in information sciences and technology and sociology, his joy comes in the form of traveling. Emero is currently interning in Tokyo at the Embassy of Afghanistan. 

He has lived in Italy and Saudi Arabia, as well as in locations throughout the United States. He said his travel experiences prepared him for his internships, and his IST education has helped with his professional development.

"I had no idea what working in a technical field meant, exactly," he said. "To me, it means working with people and utilizing technology to fulfill the needs of other people.”

Emero explained that the College of IST prepared him for face-to-face interaction, as the curriculum is socially oriented in addition to its technical teachings. For him it is important to integrate the human factor into IST to achieve the greatest results.

"Regardless of what I want to do, I want to do it with or in the consideration of all people,” he said. “That's the sociology aspect of things.”

The College of IST is rooted in group-oriented work to prepare students for real-world environments that will require them to work fluidly on a team. Holmes, Schoen, and Emero all described these experiences in the College of IST as immensely helpful in preparing them for their future careers.

The students noted that pursuing two degrees might bring along skeptics – such as a parent who is concerned that their student won’t be able to handle the extra workload. Nonetheless, the students say, it can be done with the right combination of enthusiasm and hard work.

"Just keep a passion about it, don’t give up [if] people say it’s a bad idea," said Holmes. "If you really want to do it just go for it."

Last Updated September 18, 2018